Monday, December 29, 2008

Growing Pains

I've been losing track of the days. Always happens when we take a break from homeschooling. It's a joyous reason to give up the saddle of planning and live in the moment. Don't get me wrong, I like planning. I like the ideal that my life will follow a certain order of my own devising. It seldom happens (seldom, meaning never). There's not enough time or energy to do all I dream up for us. So, I spend my days making lists, crossing a few things off, and then transferring the unfinished tasks to the next day's list. Is there ever a day that starts with a blank list? A day that's a clean slate without one more unfinished chore or a few more new projects on the horizon. I don't think so. Might as well lose track of the days this week while I have the chance.

My older daughter keeps getting comments from her friends about her odd looking mother. The mother with that "thing" on her head, as one of the clearly not subtle friends put it. I guess I knew I would reach this time at some point. Where I have become the uncool mom. The burdensome parental unit hovering in the background. I've explained to her why I cover. She knows the speech. She also says she doesn't really get it, though. It ultimately doesn't make sense why I would choose to be so different. Why should it at the age when you want more than anything just to fit in and be like everybody else?

I feel for my daughter. She's at the time in her life where she's struggling desperately each moment just to define her own image, her own feelings, her own purpose. As if that weren't a daunting enough task, now she has to do the same things for me, too. I'm sure she must wish I would just be another faceless mom in jeans and a short, sleek bob. She must be frustrated that I refuse to blend in. She doesn't show it, though. She doesn't have the answers to satisfy her friends, but she doesn't back down from the comments and the questions either. She still acknowledges me in public. She still sits beside me at the swim meets and walks beside me in the store. I don't think there's any clearer way she could tell me she loves me.

With two adolescents in the house, sometimes the hormones are so thick you can cut them with a knife. I just shake my head in amazement at the things they say and do. But when I feel my frustration starting to bubble, and I'm on the verge of giving in to my anger, I remember this about my daughter. I remember that she loves me for who I am. She accepts me, even when she doesn't understand me. The least I owe her is the same...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Day 7--- Belated

I'm finishing up my week of pics a little late. I took a break to focus on the holiday.

Here's a typical lazy day outfit for me. I rarely wear short coverings like this one. I guess I just don't feel "covered" enough. Also, I couldn't wear them for months. My hair was so short when I first started covering that this style looked strange. No hair to cover up the ties in the back. There's finally enough there now, though. I think this will especially be a useful style for summer. This past summer was miserable trying to find a good covering for the heat.

I had my first haircut in 7 months yesterday. You can figure out just how short my hair really was! I had been putting off cutting it, because I dreaded trying to explain the situation to whoever I happened to get at the salon. It's very important that I maintain my tiny ponytail. I've worked hard to get that little thing. Before it was there, it was just one giant battle with too short wisps hanging down from my scarves. I can still hear myself grumbling over and cursing those things. I just knew I'd end up launching into a huge explanation to the beautician of how I didn't need a style, because I cover it up anyway. She would nod her head and wrinkle up her forehead in a completely confused look. She would say she understood, and I would hold my breath. Then, I could just see her chopping off my length anyway to try and make it even up to some kind of "cute" hairdo. I think I actually had a nightmare along those lines once. So, I've been hiding from the hairdresser. But, my ends were getting horrible, and I was forced to find a solution... My husband cut my hair for me! As I stood in front of the mirror with a towel wrapped around my shoulders and a half smile on my lips, I watched him juggle the scissors and comb, a look of deep concentration on his face. He carefully trimmed just the tiniest bit off my ends. No chopping. No nightmare. All I could think as I stood there was, "This man really LOVES me." Whatta guy. My hero.

I can't believe Christmas came and went. I have the bittersweet feeling I do at the end of all fasts. On the one hand, I feel like I missed out. I could have prayed more. I could have forgiven more. I could have repented more. I wasted a lot of opportunities. On the other hand, I can eat bacon now, and I'm pretty happy about that. :)

I remember in my Protestant days, I tried desperately to construct a meaningful web of Christmas traditions. I wanted it to be more than the lights and the sounds and the presents. I wanted Scripture and ritual and depth. I experimented with ideas, but I never found the right fit. I especially longed to be able to go to church on Christmas Day. I never had that experience except for when the holiday happened to fall on Sunday. No one wanted church to conflict with their Christmas morning gift opening rituals, so it wasn't even a possibility in other years.

As I stood in church this Christmas Eve, taking my turn as a reader for the Royal Hours, my heart swelled. The mass amount of Scripture. The hymns filled with wonder and gratitude. This is what I was looking for. No need to devise my own traditions. The Church fathers were so wise in their careful planning that leads us from fast to feast to fast to feast throughout the liturgical year. I don't have to re-invent the wheel. It's already lined out for me and shared by generations.

There were more prayers when we returned that evening for Vigil. Then the climax came Christmas morning at Liturgy. While the city was quiet and the streets deserted, we climbed in the car and traveled to church to spend our Christmas morning proclaiming the birth of Christ. There is no denying the Christ in an Orthodox Christmas. He's not hiding in a manger scene. The whole Earth is filled with his glory. I'm so grateful. For the God I worship and the faith that gives me the tools to run from myself and push closer to God. Who needs any other present than that?

Christ Is Born! Glorify Him!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Day 6

This is the second time I've worn the Rapunzel style. I just love the idea of it. Cliche or not, I must have said, "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!" a dozen times today. This style makes me love being a girly girl. I can imagine I've fast forwarded in time about 5 years, and it's really my own hair I can feel in the middle of my back. My husband likes it. I get comments about the uniqueness of it. All positives. Again, I love the idea of this style.

Sigh...Alas, this is probably the most uncomfortable way I've ever worn a scarf. The weight of the scarf is awkward, especially when driving. I look left quickly to see oncoming traffic, and my scarf is too heavy to toss along with my head. So it stays still, making me feel kind of restrained and claustrophobic. Not the greatest sensation when merging on the interstate. Then there's the thick bulk at my back when I sit in a chair. Add on the dilemma of what to do with my flowing tail when I put on my coat. Too many issues. Such a shame, because it sure is dreamy.

I'm sure I'll end up wearing this style again someday. When I'm bored with every other scarf. When I want to feel like a princess. Or when I want to imagine I'm in a Pantene commercial. I'm sure one of those days will come---someday.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Day 5

I had two very important reasons for this outfit today. #1---It is C-O-L-D outside. My husband and I went Christmas shopping into the wee hours last night. I pity all employees of the big box retail stores who have ridiculously late hours this time of year. There were entirely too many grumpy people out there. Conversation overheard in the Electronics section when a woman had to wait too long for assistance: "Come on! It's CHRISTMAS!" I laughed under my breath. Yes, dear, it is Christmas, and nothing says "Christ Is Born!" like you throwing a hissy fit at midnight in the middle of Wal-Mart, because you're not instantly getting what you want. This is why I avoid shopping. The commercialism is difficult for me to swallow. I am completely uncharitable and unloving to the human race when I stand in a mall. Virtually all of my thoughts are negative. I feel almost nothing in common with those around me or see where they're coming from. All I see is over-abundance, over-indulgence, and under-appreciation. Even though I might be right on some counts, it's still pride with a capital "P". I have so much to learn...

We ultimately had a good time, though. We are rarely alone in public, and it was a date night thrill to pick out presents for the kiddos together. It was 2 degrees, though. Literally--- it was 2 degrees. Wind chill was -20 degrees! I was totally unprepared and had not put on enough layers. Chilly, chilly.

So anyway, even though I didn't plan on making any late night shopping trips today, I reached for the corduroy skirt and the fleece shirt just to be safe.

My #2 important criteria for my outfit today was that I was in absolutely no mood to iron. Our Christmas break from schooling began today, and I decided ironing was at the top of the list of things to take a break from. I used to be very anti-iron in most of my wardrobe, but now I'm ironing everyday. If it's not the skirt/dress, it's the scarf. I never thought about how headcovering would bring a new level of housework to my world. Ironing, handwashing, etc. I was queen of the jeans and sweatshirt. The less effort the better. It's good for me not to take the easy way out. I need a little practice in diligence.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Day 4

I was uncomfortable today. I tied my scarf really tight, because it was a busy day at church with the children's play. I knew the last thing I needed was a drooping scarf. And this scarf is polyester, so sometimes those ones have a mind of their own. Like the time I was wandering down the aisle in the grocery store, and all of the sudden, my scarf spontaneously came untied, and just fell off my head. So there I was with my matted down scarf head (scarf head is ten times more unattractive than hat head, by the way) trying to tie it back on with a roving crowd of people watching and the obligatory running commentary of unnecessary advice from my three year old. Not a fun day.

Anyway, so I tied it good and tight this morning and headed off to Liturgy. Somewhere around the Great Entrance, I realized I had lost all blood circulation to my ears. It's an odd feeling having your ears fall asleep. Not quite as charming as waking back up an arm or leg. Much more painful and tough to shake.

So, I went without a covering this afternoon while I took a nap. I'll put one on again when my husband and I go out to do a little Christmas shopping. Sometimes I go around the house without a covering, like the days homeschooling keeps me from getting into the shower until noon, but I never go out in public without one. I think I would feel naked. Overexposed. That was an interesting thing I noticed when I started covering. Yes, people look at you because you're dressed differently, but at the same time, you become more anonymous. Especially to men. Sure, they glance, but they look away. And they always open doors...

The covering is like a universal off limits sign. Men are visual. Take away the visual, and they're not distracted. I am a woman not to be ogled, and I have the sign on my head to prove it. Covering seems to bring out the inner gentleman in the male race. Like the desire to woo and conquer is replaced with the equally strong desire to protect and defend. Incredibly interesting human psychology. Information already known to God and accounted for in his plan for women to cover. I'm just catching on a little late in the game.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Day 3

I love this skirt. I love it, because it swirls. The five year old in me finds that quality very appealing. You never know, at any moment, just walking down the street, the sudden urge to spin might come over me. Having a swirly skirt will come in handy!

My headcovering is an oblong scarf from Target tied in a variation on the Crown style from Tznius. Rather than just tying the ends by my ear and leaving them long, I like to tie them in a big, loose bow. It's more secure for me and gives a little more oomph. Also, rather than twisting the long end as I wind it around the top of my head, I usually just let it lay smooth. The sleeker look seems to work better for me.

We had the dress rehearsal for the children's Christmas play at church today. I was put in charge of tying the scarves of the girls in the cast. That gave me a chuckle. I'm the only one in my parish who covers, so here I am, a relatively new convert, and all the older women of the parish are asking ME how to tie the kids' scarves. Most of them have been Orthodox their entire lives, but they didn't have a clue how to put a scarf on their heads. Ultimately, it made me kind of sad. I wish I could tell them in an effective way what they're missing.

I loaned one of my hijab-style scarves to one of the girls. She complained that it felt funny and itched. I agreed that I felt the same way when I started wearing scarves. My head literally rebeled at having something placed on it. I told her that it stops bothering you if you wear them for awhile. Taking the opportunity, she asked, "Why DO you wear them all the time?" I replied simply, "It helps me remember to pray." Her eyes lit up and she nodded in agreement. That made sense to a 10 year old. She saw how valuable a reminder can be.

People rarely ask me about the covering, but that's my standard explanation. Modesty, submission, roles of men and women, obedience to God--- those are hot topics. But remembering to pray seems to go down easy for the inquirer. I think we all know we don't pray enough.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Day 2

Today's outfit is what I wish I had a closet full of. Skirt is just the right length, fit, and texture. Denim jacket gives just enough interest to the look to keep it, well...interesting. Right now though, I'm still struggling to replace my wardrobe. What seemed perfect last year just doesn't cut it anymore. Too short. Too tight. Too something not quite right. And I barely owned any skirts or dresses in the last five years. I'm slowly finding my way to a comfortable wardrobe, one trip to Goodwill at a time. There's just no money for a brand new look. Yet again, learning to be content.

In theory, I like the idea of a uniform. A closet full of long sleeve T-shirts and denim jumpers. The exact same headcovering in different colors. It sounds good in theory. Further discourage my vanity. But my husband likes variety, and I still do, too. I would like to narrow my options, though. Stick to a general area of basics. I'm still trying to find what's most comfortable, affordable, and genuine.

I love trips to the monastery, especially on a feast day. I was at a particular feast in August that struck me. The gathered pilgrims were waiting in an outdoor pavilion for the Liturgy to begin. In the distance, the priests began to process from another building, led by the nuns singing the Troparion. It took my breath away. The look of them. All dressed exactly the same, yet so unique. Their individuality shone through. They didn't blend in because of their similar dress. Rather, their special and separate personalities had the chance to shine through more distinctly. They were not "the lady with the blonde hair", "the one in the red shirt", or a myriad of other labels. Anyone in their presence was able to see them for who they were, because the observer was no longer distracted by meaningless appearances. Modest dress serves its purpose well. It takes the eye deeper, into the soul of the other human being. No more stumbling against the wall of bare skin. It's an invitation to go under the surface. See me for who I am inside.

I love the face of a nun. The glow. I know my headcovering doesn't automatically give me that. I may dress the part sometimes, but I still have a lot of work to do. You have to earn holiness. If I can just be a fraction of the person I dress like. That's what I pray for. What I commit to each day. Just a little bit like that person.

My headcovering today is a funny mix of styles. Well, at least it's funny to me. The scarves are two hijabs from HijabGirl. I tied them in the Butterfly Style from Tznius. Muslim scarves tied in an Orthodox Jewish style on an Orthodox Christian woman. I find that kinda funny. (I know, I'm easily entertained.) I like moments like this when I feel commradarie with my fellow headcoverers of all faiths. It's why I always smile at the Muslim women in the grocery store. A look just to say, "Hey, I can't really go there with you on all your beliefs, but this...this I understand. And I'm glad we have it in common."

I worked my tail off cleaning today, volunteering at the food pantry I coordinate, and hosting our parish crochet group. All of this while wearing pantyhose. It can be done. Actually, I move better in skirts. Much more room to maneuver in. It's a lie we tell ourselves that pants are more comfortable. Sure, doing everything in a skirt takes some getting used to, but that's not the skirt's fault. It's because we're used to something different. We're all just creatures of habit.

Day 1

I've been skirts/dresses only and headcovering for six months now. Seems like longer. A couple weeks ago, I wore a pair of jeans when I was outside in the cold for a long time. I couldn't stand it. Funny how your mind adjusts. In my experience, it took about three weeks to no longer feel "dressed up" in a skirt. Now, it's my normal. What I did for three decades has been canceled out by six months. Perhaps it's the me that was always in there and never got a chance to come out??? Perhaps the thousands of years of women in dresses can't be canceled out by my three decades in Levi's??? Probably a bit of both.

I know when I first began this journey, I scoured the internet for pictures of women living their everyday lives in dresses and headcoverings. I used to live in Amish country, so I was familiar with that scenario. I now live in an area with a relatively large population of Muslims and Orthodox Jews. I understood where they were coming from. I wanted to see other average Christian women striving for modesty.

So, here's the beginning of a week's worth of pics. Maybe it will help someone else exploring these issues. I've already discovered this will be a further polishing away of my vanity. Yikes! I'm usually the one that takes the photos. I'm not in very many pictures. Didn't realize quite how I look at this age or dress size. Good lessons...

Here's my outfit for the day. Check out the oh-so-cool leg warmers. My eldest daughter despises them, but she's not the one walking around in a skirt when it's 20 degrees! I find they make an enormous difference in staying warm. If your ankles are warm, you're warm. Don't know exactly why that's true scientifically, but it's the case.

Here's my headcovering for the day.

This represents a recurring theme in my headcovering style: the kerchief. Sometimes they're long. Sometimes they're short. They're almost all basically kerchiefs, though. Someday when my hair grows out, I'll wear snoods or a bun, but for now, I'm learning to be content with my teeny ponytail and kerchief.

I won't even attempt to launch into a explanation or justification of my move to feminine dress and headcovering. Every time I start, I end up in a tangled mess. It's still something I learn about each day. God didn't give me all the answers in one moment. It's not that simple. I hope I can share a few tidbits here and there, though. It means more than I can summarize. It's worth more than I can verbalize. Maybe I'll be able to fully explain it someday. Maybe.